Proposal for A World Congress on Referencing Styles

I have been busy over the last few days correcting proofs for two forthcoming articles. One of the journals accepts neither footnotes nor endnotes so I had to find place in the text for the >20 footnotes I had. As usual, most of these footnotes result directly from the review process so getting rid of them is not an option even if many are of marginal significance. The second journal accepts only footnotes – no in-text referencing at all – so I had to rework all the referencing into footnotes. Both journals demanded that I provide missing places of publication for books and missing page numbers for articles. Ah, the joys of academic work!

But seriously… How is it possible that a researcher working in the XXI century still has to spend his/her time changing commas into semicolons and abbreviating author names to conform to the style of a particular journal? I just don’t get it. I am all for referencing and beautifully-formatted bibliographies but can’t we all agree on one single style? Does it really matter if the years of a publication are put in brackets or not? Who cares if the first name of the author follows the family name or the other way round? Do we really need to know the place of publication of a book? Where do you actually look for this information? Is it Thousand Oaks, London, or New Delhi? All three appear on the back of a random SAGE book I picked from the shelf… Who would ever need to know whether it was Thousand Oaks or London in the first place? Maybe libraries, but they certainly don’t get their data from my references. Obviously, the current referencing system is a relic from very different and distant times when knowing the publishing place was necessary to get access to the book. Now, collecting and providing this information is a waste of time and space.

And yes, I have heard of Endnote and BibTeX, and I do use reference management software. But most journals still don’t have their required styles available for import into these programs. So the publisher doesn’t find it necessary to hire somebody for a few hours to prepare an official Endnote style sheet for the journal, but it demands from all authors to spend days in order to rework their references to conform to its rules?!

And why are there different referencing styles anyways? Can you imagine the discussions that journal editors and publishers have before they settle for a particular referencing style?

– Herr Professor, I must insist that we require journal names to be in italics!
– That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard – everybody knows that journal names are supposed to be in bold, not in italics!
– But gentlemen, research by our esteemed colleagues in psychology has shown that journal names put in a regular font and encircled by commas are perceived as 3% more reliable than others.
– Nonsense! I demand that journal names are underlined and every second one in the list should be abbreviated as well.

And so on and so forth… To remedy the situation I boldly propose a World Congress on Referencing Styles. All the academic disciplines and publishers will send delegates to resolve this perennial problem once and for all. There will be panels like Page Numbers: Preceded by a Comma, a Colon, or a Dash, and seminars on topics like Recent Trends in Abbreviating Author Names. No doubt several months of deliberation will be needed, but eventually the two main ‘Chicago’ and ‘Harvard’ parties will reach a compromise which will be endorsed by the United Nations amid the ovations of the world leaders. The academic universe would never be the same again!

Until that day, happy referencing to you all!

The present and the future of academic publishing

Academic publishing remains one of the most mysterious industries to me even after being caught in its web for a while. I have found no better presentation of the idiocy of the whole system than this video:


more here

Unfortunately, recent development (at least in social science journals) do not make me very hopeful about the future. Economic journal are abandoning double-blind review (see for example here) and Political Analysis, which prides itself to be the number one political science journal, recently announced that it will do the same (there does not seem to be an official announcement yet on the site of the journal). According to the new policy, the identity of authors would be revealed to the reviewers (who remain anonymous). The main argument for doing so is that in many cases the reviewers can guess the authors anyways. It is puzzling that economists and analytical political scientists of all people would fall for this argument – even if many reviewers can guess/google the identity of the authors, double-blind review is still a Pareto improvement over single-blind review: while it may not work in all cases, it doesn’t hurt in any.

I would rather encourage more accountability on the side of the reviewers. Anonymous or not, manuscript reviews should be public documents. Why not attach them to the digital copies of the articles when published (or even better, when rejected)? I can see no harm in making the reviews publicly available by default.  Instead, after serving as a reviewer for a paper submitted to the Journal of Common Market Studies I was denied a request to see the other reviews after the editorial decision was made. I can see how concealment can be beneficial for the discretion of the editors, but I fail to see how it improves genuine academic discussion and the advancement of knowledge which, to my mind, is the objective of the  entire system of academic publishing.

To end on a bright note, last month Princeton University decided to ban researchers from giving the copyright of scholarly articles to journal publishers. Hopefully, that would not remain an isolated incident.